Stress as the gateway to freedom

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At 8.15am the new puppy had just gone to sleep. She’d been up since 6:30am, and from 8.00am she was biting and chewing and chasing everything in sight: her toys, my toes, my wife’s shoes, the cat…

Sometimes when she’s tired she gets like that. We put her to bed and she very quickly flopped over and closed her eyes. Sometimes she dreams, moving her feet whilst she’s asleep, and making little noises.

This is our first dog, she’s been at home with us for three weeks, and what a learning curve! She is gorgeous, delightful and she’s just slept through the night for the first time.

As well as learning how to look after a dog, and how a puppy changes from day to day, I’ve also learnt a lot about myself. New situations offer that opportunity. Sometimes that learning has felt like a gentle curiosity, and sometimes that learning has come out of an experience of being almost full of powerful emotions.

In stressful situations our habitual ways of staying safe in the world can come out even more forcefully than usual. For some people it’s micro-managing. For some people it’s finding ways of distracting themselves, or getting distance from the stressor. All of these habits are usually ways of preventing ourselves from feeling some powerful emotion that we (subconsciously) worry might overwhelm us: anxiety, grief, anger, guilt and so on.

Where do these powerful emotions come from that suddenly well up and invite us to jump into our self-protective strategies? They come from the past.

The current stressful situation has some echoes of a time when we couldn’t manage or didn’t know what to do. We were too little or we weren’t resourced enough to cope. And if we haven’t fully processed what happened in the past – if we haven’t felt what we needed to feel, let go of what needed to be let go, and healed those wounds — those feelings come up again and again. Why? They are inviting healing.

That’s why these current stressful situations are such a great opportunity—there is an invitation to heal old wounds. And when those old wounds are healed, we no longer need to dive into micro-managing, or distracting, or whatever, and as well as coping with the present, we can actually begin to enjoy ourselves.

It can really help to have another person alongside for this healing journey. A counsellor can provide a safe space to talk, they can help you feel emotions without being overwhelmed by them, and they can support the letting go and healing that is needed.

In this way stressful situations can be the door to more freedom. If we approach ourselves with curiosity and get the support we need, we can come out of them better than we were before.

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